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Intriguing Hybrid toys

Office Voodoo dolls

Being a parent, I'm surrounded by toys I dislike - the type they get at birthdays, costs €9.95 or less and lasts for an hour or less (except for the lead posioning, which lasts a bit longer). And there are all those "interactive" toys, where you click on something and it plays a tune for 5 minutes, badly. These toys never have an "off" button.

There are also a lot of toys I like. Lego still works for me: the simple bricks, even the big Duplo ones which my daughter loves so much. Or her simple teddy bear. Simple is better. But once in a blue moon I come across something that probably isn't simple, but cannot be dismissed.

  • Michael Lew and his Office Voodoo doll Nancy (from the Sunday Times, Sep. 8th 2002)

I've long been intrigued by Michael Lew's voodoo doll interface for his interactive video sit-com, Office Voodoo (alumni.media.mit.edu/~lew/research/voodoo/), produced in 2002 at the MIT media lab Europe.

Office Voodoo is an office sit-com for two characters, Frank and Nancy. Each of the characters has a voodoo doll interface with which two users can play. Pressure sensors and accelerometers placed inside the dolls measure activity, while vibrating motors and flashing LEDs provide visual and haptic feedback. Users can thus rock the doll gently to make it happy or shake it violently to make it angry. The action in the video is edited live to react to those mood swings of both characters and, depending on the location in the matrix of contrasting or complementary emotions, Frank and Nancy either fight over office equipment, have sex on top of it or anything in between. The dolls function both as emotional transference objects and as a tangible interface to a dynamic dramatic situation.

I haven't had the opportunity to interact with these dolls and characters, but this hybrid of tangible interfaces, which are themselves toys, and combinatorical storytelling fascinates me, especially in relation to my own research and work on interfaces for storytelling, for example the touch-screen interactive portrait interface of the Interface Portrait storyteller system (www.knoller.com/ip/).

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